30 Day Challenge

margarita

Today is July 11 and I have not had a drink in 30 days.

Some of you may know that my mother suffers from advanced dementia and requires round-the-clock care. She is on hospice and I have been out on FMLA leave helping with her care (which is why I missed SMACC in Chicago).

This time away from work has allowed me to do some soul searching about life. Life is hard. Working in the emergency services is hard. Being a caregiver is hard. Being a good husband and father is hard.

I was drinking a lot. My mother goes to bed between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m. and my Dad and I would sit down at the kitchen table and enjoy a honey whiskey and ginger ale. Mostly it was honey whiskey with a splash of ginger ale. Then we’d split a bottle of wine. My Mom’s illness has been hard on my Dad.

My GERD was getting worse. I was taking Prilosec and Zantac every day. The results of my annual physical came back. My liver enzymes were abnormal. I told myself it was probably from lifting weights.

It was subtle at first. Like tiny little stress fractures you’d need a magnifying glass to see. I think we in the emergency services have very strong coping mechanisms. Maybe we don’t have any choice.

We see abnormal things every day. We deal with people more screwed up than we are. We endure stress. Lots and lots of stress.

I thought to myself, “I should probably cut down on the drinking.” I was forgetting to take care of certain things. I was waking up almost every morning with a hangover. The gutters at my house were overflowing with pine straw. My wife and I were getting on each others’ nerves. She’s in a doctoral program and she’s under a lot of stress, too.

I quit drinking for a few days. I didn’t have any withdrawal symptoms. But then maybe I wouldn’t. After all, for the last 18 years I have had to be sober for 24 hours every third day. I went to a firefighter wedding and didn’t drink at all. For the first time I noticed how much people drink at a wedding. My wife and I left early.

Two days later I fell off the wagon and got really drunk at my Dad’s house. I felt bad about it. Not because I think I’m an alcoholic (that’s a whole other topic). Because I failed to do something that I said I was going to do. That bothered me.

The next day I enjoyed a glass of wine with my Dad and announced that I was going to take a 30 day break from drinking. That was June 10. Today marks 30 days. That’s probably the longest I’ve gone without drinking alcohol in 30 years.

I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last 30 days. I’ve learned that I don’t need alcohol. I like waking up without a hangover. I enjoy having my evenings back. My GERD has mostly resolved and I’m off my medication. I suddenly have a lot more money in my pocket.

I used to think I loved eating out. Now I realize that I went out to have sushi so I could drink saki. I went to an Italian restaurant so I could drink red wine. I went out to my favorite Mexican restaurant so I could enjoy a margarita or two. I’m an expensive drunk!

I don’t know if I’m going to start drinking again or not and it’s not my intention to tell you how to live your life. But I do know a thing or two about the emergency services, stress, and drinking alcohol. Chances are that you know a thing or two about it, too.

Do you recognize yourself in anything I’ve just written? If so, I challenge you to take a 30 day break from drinking alcohol.

It won’t hurt you. I promise. It might even help.

19 Comments

  • Mrs. B says:

    You are an amazing man and I am incredibly proud of you. Providing care to others is a rewarding but stressful career and we should all take a moment to every now and then to take of ourselves.

  • John Kriska says:

    30 June 1981. My first day of the beginning of the release from booze. Did it on my own. Have not had a drink of alcohol since. Tom I agree, waking up in the morning without a hangover, knowing where your car is, not having to worry what you did last night. What a great feeling. Hope you decide to stay off the booze, life is much better without it. If you ever want to talk to someone who has been there, please contact me.

  • michael says:

    Thanks for this Tom, I often think everybody but me can drink alcoholic beverages without repercussions. I took thirty days off nearly 15 years ago, saw no reason to pick up a drink since. I tell myself I might be able to drink again, some day, but for me it’s just not worth the risk of getting back into the insidious behaviors you describe so well in this post. Best of luck to you, your mom and dad and the rest of the family, a long road is ahead, great idea to face it sober!

  • Rod Hetherington says:

    Take care if yourself is priority #1 Tom. Great job in recognizing your habits or coping mechanism. I wish you well in your climb back to good health! Thanks for all you do for us in EMS.
    Rod Hetherington
    Erieau, Ontario Canada

  • murphquake says:

    Ready to start the next 30? I never would have guessed that about you Tom. I think it’s great that you posted this, as there is definitely a strong inclination to problem drinking in public safety. -bill

  • Ben Neal says:

    Bravo, Tom.

  • Luke rumel says:

    Self compassion at work.

  • Russ Brown says:

    Kudos to you Tom for the self disclosure. That can be a difficult thing to put yourself out there for the sake of possibly helping others who struggle with the same things. Thanks!

  • Jeff Humphrey says:

    http://www.brattlebororetreat.org/programs-services/uniformed-service-program/ems-workers

    This place was great when I needed help. I can’t say enough about the staff and housing accommodations.
    I would recommend this program to anyone who might be struggling with alcoholism, addiction, anxiety, stress, or PTSD. Please take a moment to check out the link.

  • Anowar says:

    You are great man but you need to help yourself to avoid drinking. It’s hard to advise but hard to do!

  • Greg Friese says:

    Tom, this post is likely to save and improve more lives than any article you have ever posted.

    Most importantly the self-reflection and resolve show a deep commitment to your closest family, friends, and co-workers.

    Be well.

  • Eric says:

    Like others who have commented I, too, stopped drinking, in my case 28 years ago, in February of 1987.

    It seems to take a certain level of initial awareness, which you obviously have.

    Also, taking it a day at a time is the only way and pretty soon those days turn into years.

    It has resulted in a very changed and much fuller life.

    The crucial component to long term sobriety is feeling gratitude for the gift of being released from the need for alcohol.

    When you are ready to take a drink, before you do, sit down and reflect on that gift.

    The need to drink disappears.

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to reflect on my sobriety and to feel grateful for it.

    Eric Lamar

  • Kevin Hurl says:

    Great article, I did 5 months off drinking training for an event but also because I knew in the back of mind drinking was becoming a crutch. First couple of months were so so , after month 2 with training I felt like a new man. Had a few drinks after the 5 months but found I’d lost some of the love that I had for drinking and now I am doing a another 2 months off just because I can. Keep it up.

  • Mark says:

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Don says:

    Good post. Yes indeed, life is better with a clear head, I could not agree with you more.

  • Austin J Woolsey says:

    Hang in there, brother. I follow this page as much as I can. You’ve likely forgotten more than I’ll ever know of my favorite field.

    Those of us reading are always pulling for you. Well done and congrats on this far.

  • Linda Verduzco (Ebejer) says:

    Huge Bravo cousin! Thanks for the time and wffort to tell others who may need to reflect. What you and your dad are doing for your mom is the ultimate expression of love. Sending huge warm hugs!
    Linda

  • Tracy Thompson says:

    Congratulations!! I have been an EMT since 1985 and sober since 1/13/05! PTSD played a part in my drinking and it is still a struggle today….but…today I am sober!

  • Michelle Harrigan says:

    Standing strong in your own pain and acknowledging your own darkness is very difficult. It takes a lot of guts to come out with this and I hope you are as proud of you as everyone is as proud of you for making a difference in your own life. I hope you keep talking about this because it makes a difference in the lives of first responders going thru the same thing. Take care!!

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